For the generation that grew up with console games, cheats are part of the videogame experience.  Whether through codes intentionally written into the game (such as the famous Konami code in the image above), third-party devices like a GameGenie or GameShark, or  exploiting glitches and bugs, players have found ways to change the way they progress through games.  In the past, cheats were largely harmless–at worst, they made games too easy to be fun or frustrated your co-players.  Now, however, the rise of microtransactions has complicated the ethics of using cheats, as issues with EA’s recently released Dead Space 3 demonstrates.

First, a basic explanation.  Dead Space 3 is an action-horror third-person shooter set on a barren frozen planet.  One of the primary challenges of the game (and indeed the previous games in the Dead Space franchise) is collecting in-game resources to manufacture things like the ammunition necessary to fight the game’s monsters.  In the first two Dead Space games, players accomplished this task by finding credits and items within the game, but Dead Space 3 introduced a system of microtransactions using real money to allow players to advance more quickly than would otherwise be possible (as an aside, this decision and its subsequent justifications have been criticized and lampooned for coercing players who have already spent $60 purchasing the game to spend even more).

So far so good, but shortly after Dead Space 3′s release, players determined they could exploit bugs in the game to generate resources far more quickly than intended.  By using these glitches, players could largely avoid the need to use the game’s real-money microtransaction system.  Many players have said that they do not see these actions as unethical since Dead Space 3 is already priced as a premium game, but others in the videogame industry are not so sure.  As Sara Ludlam, an IP attorney at Lupton, Fawcett, Lee & Priestley explained to the BBC “if you go into a baker’s to buy a bun and they give you the wrong change and you walk away knowing you have been given more change than you handed over in the first place, that’s theft . . . So, arguably if you go into this game knowing you are supposed to be paying for these weapons and you notice a glitch allows you to accumulate them without paying, that’s theft as well . . . But it is arguable because it’s a new area.”

At this point, we won’t know whether EA would actually have been able to pursue claims against players who used the glitches.  The company has stated that it intends to let the glitches slide and leave the game as-is.  Still, as microtransaction systems embed themselves ever deeper into the fabric of the video game industry, these sorts of issues will likely become more prevalent.

Hunter Branstetter

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2 Responses to Cheating the Game or Cheating the Company

  1. Mike Silliman says:

    Great post Hunter. Like Andrew, I am unclear on the legality of this, but I am frankly appalled at the inclusion of the pay-to-advance system in a full priced game. Most games that have similar in-game purchases are free to play (e.g, farmville) and make money on the supplemental purchases. It seems like Dead Space 3 is trying to take another bite out of the apple, so to speak. I sure hope that we don’t start seeing this in other full-priced games.

  2. Andrew Bauer says:

    Interesting. I have no idea about the legality of what these players are doing, but I’m not sure I have a problem with it ethically. I’m not sure this is really analogous to knowingly taking incorrect change from a store-EA put out a broken product (no surprise there). Running third party software to exploit a system of micro-transactions for financial gain seems more akin to thievery to me than using poorly designed software as provided by the developer.